CYCLING THROUGH SOUTH INDIA, Part 3: KOCHI, KERALA, Guest Post by Gretchen Woelfle



Drying fish, Kerala, India
You’ll find Kerala on the southwestern tip of the Indian sub-continent. Legend has it that St. Thomas came evangelizing in 52 CE, but historical evidence favors the Portuguese who formed an alliance with the local king and built a fort at Cochin (now called Kochi) in 1503. 
 
Our three guides
The spice trade, for which Kerala is still famous, lured the Europeans and today 18% of the population is Christian, 27% Muslim, and 55% Hindu. We had three guides on our cycling trip: Joseph is Christian, Shibu is Muslim, Hari is Hindu. They are the best of friends.
Sunset, Nilgiri Hills
When we descended the Nilgiri hills into Kerala we came to the Arabian Sea which brought cooling breezes to a tropical landscape. That afternoon we went swimming in the sea.  It was windy and choppy, but as warm as a bath. Fishermen still ply their trade in traditional wooden boats, but powered with motors, not sails. 
Fishing Net
We followed Joseph on a winding route of narrow lanes, passing grand homes built by Indians who work in the Gulf States and elsewhere. (Joseph’s wife, a nurse, has worked in Saudi Arabia for three years.) Then into the countryside, stopping for a festival parade of dancers and musicians, and on to the old harbor area of Kochi.
Festival dancers
Cycling down narrow alleyways we reach a private home, climb to a roof terrace and are served a dozen courses of delicious Keralan specialties served on a banana leaf. I eat it all with my right hand, local style. After that we retreat to the shady garden of our British-era guest house to rest and digest! 
Resting at our guest house
A free day in Kochi sends me shopping with friends. We fill my extra duffel bag with carpets, wall hangings, silk tunics, and spices. 
Kathakali actors
We attend a short tourist version of a Kathakali dance, arriving early to watch actors apply their elaborate colorful makeup. Traditional performances last from dusk until dawn, with many actors dramatizing familiar legends. Kathakali plays are accompanied by percussion but no words. Actions and emotions are expressed by stylized movement, hand gestures (mudras) and very expressive faces. We saw a two-person story of a failed seduction which ended badly for the heroine (offstage). 
Sunset over the Arabian Sea in Kerala
Along with the locals, we watch the sun set over the sea. Next day, we’re back on the bikes to meet our next adventure: an overnight cruise on the backwaters of Kerala. 
Tour map
Cycling distances on this trip varied from 12-55 miles/day, averaging about 30 miles/day. Road conditions were good, most rides were on quiet back roads. Van support was always available for those who chose not to cycle. See www.exodustravels.com for more information on this and other tours.

Saris drying in the sun
Selected bibliography:
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. This 1997 Booker-prizewinning novel takes place in Kerala.
The End of Karma: Hope and Fury Among India’s Young by Somini Sengupta. A New York Times reporter, born in India and raised in the U.S., spent several years researching this 2016 book about India today.
Kim by Rudyard Kipling. Story of a street orphan and Tibetan lama in 1890s India: a spy thriller, social commentary, and poignant coming of age story. One of my favorite classics.

Note: Go to Gretchen's posts on this blog on 4/17/2017 and 4/24/2017 for parts 1 and 2 of her South India cycling trip.

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